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Silvia Carlos Chilleron, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra and contributor to the Institute for Culture and Society

World AIDS Day: Not Just Another Year

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 10:37:00 +0000 Published in. La Nueva España, La Provincia, El Faro de Vigo, La Opinión de Málaga

Another year? It is once again World AIDS Day. We could even qualify and call it HIV/AIDS, because although thousands of people continue to be infected by the HIV virus, thanks to increasing access to antiretroviral treatments, cases of AIDS caused by this virus are becoming less frequent. 

This year the slogan of the international campaign for this day is the "Right to health", including physical and mental health. In Spain, the Ministry of Health's message is more concrete, landing closer to home: "Transmit respect". In posters and videos to be distributed in our country, images and messages in various languages are interwoven to show that certain behaviors and attitudes do not transmit HIV. At the same time as informing the population that kissing, hugging or touching an HIV-positive person does not transmit the infection, it is encouraged to respect infected people through coexistence, understanding or love. In other words, the message is focused on information and respect, two key elements to advance in the fight against HIV/AIDS and, in final, to advance to achieve health for all.

Let's look at the first element: information. Subjectively, we might think that each of us can live our daily lives unaware of HIV/AIDS or multiple other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because it is something far removed from our reality, from our context. However, the objective data tell us that this is not so. The data are showing us how every year thousands of infections are being diagnosed in Spain: in 2016, around 3,350notifications of new HIV diagnoses, 4,800 diagnoses of Chlamydia, 3,100 of gonorrhea, 2,300 of syphilis...this just to start.

And many thousands more are going undiagnosed: cases without symptoms that despite being contagious do not seek a diagnosis and also cases with symptoms that due to leave risk perception, fear or stigma do not request the indicated test for detection, a free and confidential test in our country. The data also show us that the issue of new cases of another infection with very leave high incidence in our environment in recent decades, such as hepatitis A, has quadrupled this past year as a result of risky sexual behavior, mainly among men who have sex with men.

And most of those who are becoming infected are young people, the population that should be the most healthy, the generations that must fight for the health of all and at final, the future of our society. This is the information that must reach us. In life, in order to be able to make decisions, we need to know, and to do so, we need information. It is essential that the different groups of the population, those more or less directly affected, receive this information. Why? Because this is the way in which we can know the true routes of transmission of the virus, we can create a perception of the real risk for each person, communicate the prevention and control measures available to us and, therefore, open up a range of options so that each person can freely decide and act. And this contributes to the right to health.

Secondly, we have a second, and no less important, element: respect. According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, respect has two meanings, very much in line with the topic we are dealing with. Firstly, respect can be defined as "fear", but it also means "veneration, consideration, deference". And it is precisely respect that we need to have and show towards HIV/AIDS. On the one hand, a respect for the infection that should encourage us to be cautious, to avoid risky behaviors whose consequences may weigh on our health, our abilities, our family, our life.

A respect that many young people have lost because society is dragging them to the other shore, where it seems that any behavior can fit without negative consequences on their health. It seems that there is no respect for contagions or for the effects that they may entail.on the other hand, staying with the most positive meaning of respect, joining this year's campaign, I would encourage to learn to live with people who have this or many other diseases, which probably due to lack of information and awareness, keep us still away from that touch, kiss or hug that they may need. We need more communication strategies to transmit this respect. Strategies that are present beyond this punctual day, that are adapted to different populations and ages, that manage to curb both the factors that are triggering new infections and those that lead to an unfair rejection of the people who suffer from them. This also contributes to the right to health for everyone, for all of us.

Today, World AIDS Day, and in the days to come, "Let's avoid transmission, and live respect". Let it not be another year.